SFU News: International dual degree yields first grad

June 11, 2009

Although he’s just 22 years old, recent SFU graduate Mark Chua can now add "trailblazer" to his list of credentials.

The newly minted software developer at Vancouver’s Reva Solutions is still stunned by his achievements as the first graduate of a dual-degree program (DDP) in computing science between SFU and China’s Zhejiang University (ZU) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province (near Shanghai).

"It was gruelling, the program was going through growing pains and kept updating requirements," says Chua, who maintained more than a 4.00 cumulative grade point average out of 4.33. "But it’s neat to be a pioneer."

Chua was in the original cohort of nine students from SFU and 36 from ZU to enroll in the undergraduate program, created in 2005, which grants undergraduate degrees from both universities.

Now in its fourth year, the program has evolved. It became apparent that the Chinese students’ English was much better than the Canadians’ Chinese. So Zhejiang students still complete the program in four years, but SFU students without sufficient language skills now take a preliminary year of Mandarin (and computing science). They then spend two years at ZU, where they take some courses in Mandarin, and their final two years at SFU.

But Chua completed the program in only 3 1/2 years, as the Philippines native was given credit for a year’s worth of lower-division courses due to a previously completed international baccalaureate program in Manila. That allowed him to take upper-division courses at ZU and complete his degree early.

"Mark’s ability to study upper-division courses almost entirely in Mandarin in a challenging subject such as computing science was an amazing feat, especially given his youth," says SFU DDP coordinator Vivian Chu.

Chua says his Chinese classmates at ZU were a great help, conceding that he still has a lot of work to do before achieving fluency in Mandarin.